Embrace the Lord with Odiya Devotion, Art and Culture


HOUSTON: It was a day-long affair that started very early – by 7am for many and lasted till past midnight for the organizers – as the small but energetic community from Orissa celebrated its most cherished tradition of Rath Yatra this past Saturday, July 9 with a multitude of programs which made up the festival.

The Orissa Culture Center, in collaboration with the Sri Sita Ram Foundation and many other cultural and religious organizations, celebrated its 9th Annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannatha of Puri Dham at India House, on West Bellfort.


An estimated 2,000 people attended the events which focused on the mission of the OCC to spread the philosophy of universal brotherhood and propagate the traditional art and culture of Orrisa through dance, music and literature.

The event started auspiciously in the main hall with a traditional Vedic Havan or fire worship officiated by the head priest Pandit Bibhudutta Mishra and the President of the OCC, Dr. Debananda Pati with the main yajamana being Dr. Arun Verma and his wife Vini of the Sri Sita Ram Foundation. Different groups participated in the poojas and chanting throughout the morning and into the afternoon.


The main ritual of the deities started with Naba Jaubana Darshana around noon time in which the deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra are adorned with gorgeous attire and then revealed decorated in all their splendor and beauty to their beloved devotees.

In the early afternoon, the worship rituals included the Chappana Bhoga or the offering of fifty-six types of delicious food for the Gods and a devotional session by devotees of OCC and other organizations. Prominent among them was the Namadwara of Pearland headed by Sri Sriram Ji in which devotees sang the glories of Lord Jagannatha in the form of Gita Govindam, Dasavataram and continuous chanting of the name of the Lord.


During the same time, from morning till noon, a free Health Fair was being conducted by volunteer doctors and staff who were able to see about 200 people who continuously streamed through for check-ups.

During a brief interlude, the seating arrangements were made to transform the main hall from a religious altar to a setting for a Nrityanjali or theatre and cultural portion from 4 till 8pm. The program of the evening consisted of several classical and folk dances presented by Houston based dance schools such as the Anjali School of Performing Arts, Kalangana School of Odissi, Abhinaya School of Performing Arts and Natya Upasana Dance Academy. In the past few years, the festival has featured some well-known performers like Padma Bhusana Pandit Jasraj last year and devotional song artist Anuradha Paudwal in 2014.


This year was no less impressive, with performances by the visiting dance troupe of seven talented teenage girls from the Adruta Children Home in Bhuvaneswar, Orissa. It left the audience mesmerized through their skills in classical as well as folk dance. Adruta fosters and nurtures orphaned, abandoned and neglected children and is a unit of Rawa Academy, whose founder Dr. Aditya Mohanty was on hand to give a brief introduction to their performance. The last dance item by the visiting troupe Ananta using only colorful lighting and smoke to portray ancient Vedic philosophy through the stories of Creation and was a treat for the Soul.


And finally, for the moment that many had waited for came around 8pm, when the crowds swelled to the most to see the deities carried from the altar with much commotion and sounding of horns and drums to their chariot that waited in the parking lot outside the building. Once seated in the colorful chariot, devotees vied to get on the ropes to pull it  (called Pahandi) along through the main gates and down the side street and back after which dinner and Prasad were offered to all who were there.

The magazine Nandighosha, a yearly publication of the Rath Yatra, which covers many aspects of Jagannatha philosophy was distributed and also highlighted the wonders of Odissi art and literature. The Rath Yatra festival was made possible by the help of many supporting organizations and the Houston City Art Alliance which supported and sponsored bringing in the Adruta Dance Academy.

For details about the Orissa Culture Center, visit www.orissaculturecenter.org; for details about the chariot festivals, visit www.houstonrathyatra.org and visit the Facebook page at HoustonRathYatra.